Why Constraints Improve Creativity

House of Art


Over the years I’ve worked with with many designers and copywriters – otherwise known as “creatives” in the advertising world. Though some would say putting constraints on creativity lowers the amount of creativity, constraints actually help to enhance creativity. When done right, constraints help to focus the creative product.

Have you ever been in a big idea session where it became a free-for-all. You know…one of those sessions where the leader starts by stating  “no idea is a bad idea.” From there, the folks in the room typically start shouting out their ideas. In these types of situations, it often  becomes a game of influence where people spend time selling in and defending their personal ideas rather than listening to the merits of other people’s ideas. Take a close look next time you’re in an ideation session and you’ll see what I mean.

The outcome of a session like this is lots of disconnected ideas that someone will need to make sense of. Many times, the making sense part takes too much effort and choosing an idea becomes either a popular vote or the team ends up going back to the drawing board.

What’s the cause of this unruly behavior?

You guessed it, the lack of constraints. One way to put productive constraints in place is by clearly articulating the problem the ideas should solve. This will help the team come up with ideas that go deep into the core of the problem rather than taking a scatter shot approach where ideas are chosen based on heir “cool” factor.

In defining a problem, try posing the problem statement as an open ended question. Like…

  • In what ways might we increase sales?
  • How might we improve brand reputation?
  • What might be all the ways to improve customer service?

It may take a bit of getting used to, but thinking about the problem first and ideas second really does work. And, the creative-types may actually feel better knowing their ideas have value rather than coming up with ideas just for the sake of it.




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One Response to Why Constraints Improve Creativity

  1. My experience is that a “no idea is a bad idea” brainstorming session might be good for team building, but it’s not a good approach for getting ideas that actually gets implemented in daily life…

    I really like your idea with adding constraints and turning it into a problem statement that should be addressed. I will definitely give it a try. Thanks for a great article! /Kenneth.

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